ORONO, Maine — When a football team is practicing and scrimmaging against itself, the propensity for injuries is magnified.
The University of Maine is experiencing that unfortunate dynamic during its preseason camp.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears already had several players out of action, a few indefinitely, as they took part Tuesday afternoon in their second preseason scrimmage on sun-splashed Morse Field at Alfond Stadium.
“Everybody in every camp in the country has got hurt guys right now. That’s just the way it is,” Cosgrove said matter-of-factly.
Going into the 2013 season, which begins Aug. 31 at Norfolk State, UMaine has been working diligently to revamp an offensive line hit hard by graduation. That chore has been complicated by injuries to two of its up-and-coming players.
Redshirt freshman Calvert Schaefer is out for the season after suffering a broken left leg during last week’s first scrimmage, while sophomore Chase Hoyt is sidelined with a cast on his injured left hand.
That has thrust Ben Wezel, a 6-foot-8, 290-pounder from Germany, into the mix. He played right guard with the first unit on Tuesday.
The defensive line is another area in which the Black Bears are being challenged despite having established some depth coming into 2013.
Sophomore end Mike Kozlakowski has been lost for the season with a torn left biceps muscle. Classmate Trevor Bates of Westbrook, who last spring was moved to middle linebacker but recently had been taking reps again at end because of Kozlakowski’s injury, is nursing a banged-up right ankle that kept him out of action Tuesday.
With Bates out, redshirt freshman Christophe Mulumba has stepped in at the ’backer spot.
Other players did not participate in the scrimmage because of undisclosed injuries. That contingent included senior tight end Justin Perillo, junior defensive tackle Devin Clark, junior wide receiver Arthur Williams and junior defensive back Patrick Pascal.
“This is a grind and you’ve got to keep going and getting the work done,” Cosgrove said. “Sometimes you go without those that started there [at their positions], but it’s always been and always will be, next guy’s in. You keep playing and you keep putting in people that you’ve coached. It’s an opportunity for them.”
The offense looked good early, establishing the run game behind an offensive line made up of tackles Tyler Patterson of Owls Head and Joe Hook, guards Jeff Gakos and Wezel, and center Bruce Johnson.
On the second series, senior tailback Rickey Stevens (7 carries, 70 yards) raced around right end for a 48-yard pickup that got the offense to the 15-yard line. It was the longest offensive play of the session.
“Bruce Johnson, Tyler Patterson, Jeff Gakos, Joe Hook and everybody on the O-line stepped up and took a step forward today,” said Stevens, who is UMaine’s top returning rusher (137 carries, 819 yards, 2 touchdowns).
“I’m just trying to make the most of every rep and get better every rep,” he added.
Two more Stevens runs gave the offense a first-and-goal at the 5. Three plays later, senior receiver John Ebeling ran two yards for an apparent touchdown.
However, a 15-yard personal foul penalty against a lineman negated the score.
“Playing O-line is all about having poise,” said sophomore center Bruce Johnson. “When bad stuff happens, you’ve got to respond to that. That can’t stop us from scoring.”
On the ensuing play, senior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski was intercepted by cornerback Axel Ofori.
“That’s really the type of stuff that you’ve got to learn and grow [from],” Cosgrove said. “We moved the ball back and threw an interception and we come up with nothing, no points.”
The defense made three interceptions in all, with safety Lamar Fitzgerald and linebacker Zachary Hume getting one each. Two came in the red zone (inside the 20-yard line).
While the turnovers were negatives for the offense, Cosgrove hopes they are indicative the defense can pick up where it left off in 2012.
“We led the conference last year in red-zone defense and if we can continue to bend but not break and keep points from getting up on the board, that’s a good situation for us.”
A year ago, CAA opponents scored only 64 percent of the time (16-for-25) once getting inside the UMaine 20.
Wasilewski finished the day 7-for-13 passing, good for 79 yards. That included a 38-yard completion to Jordan Dunn and the interception.
Redshirt freshman Dan Collins went 7-for-15 for 74 yards, including a 10-yard TD toss to Justin Flores. Collins was intercepted twice.
Dunn led the receivers with two catches for 53 yards, while Flores, Derrick Johnson, Najee Green and Zedric Joseph added two grabs apiece.
The UMaine football team will take a brief break from its busy preseason training on Wednesday to conduct its annual “Meet the Black Bears” event.
Fans young and old will have the chance to meet UMaine’s players and coaches and also can take part in some football drills. Participants will receive a free poster, get autographs and enjoy free food and drinks.
The event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium. To register, call 581-1086 or email GoBlackBears@yahoo.com.